Legal Ethics

DOJ: Ex-Partner at Venable, Saul Ewing Should Repay Fees Due to Mayoral Liaison

The U.S. Justice Department says a police monitor who had a secret relationship with Detroit’s former mayor should be sanctioned—but her former law firms shouldn’t be on the hook for $10 million paid in total legal fees.

Sheryl Robinson Wood, a former partner with Venable and Saul Ewing, stepped down from her job as an independent monitor in 2009, after six years in the role, due to disclosures she had “meetings of a personal nature” with former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, according to a Justice Department filing (PDF posted by the Detroit Free Press).

The city of Detroit is seeking the return of $10 million in fees paid to Wood’s former firms and Kroll Inc., the three places she worked during the appointment, according to the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. The city’s lawyers from Dykema Gossett contend the money should be returned because the secret relationship violated Wood’s duty to be independent and unbiased, the Am Law Daily reports. Wood got the appointment as part of a consent judgment following an investigation into police civil rights violations.

The Justice Department says there is no evidence that Kroll and the law firms had any connection with the conduct or even were aware of it. The DOJ notes that some of the fees paid were for work done by other individuals, and says the court shouldn’t require repayment of that money.

But Wood should be sanctioned, the filing says, for the portion of fees attributable to her work, based on an analysis of the legal bills. The sanction, “although a steep price to pay, is appropriate in light of her role as an agent of the court and the nature and extent of her deception,” the filing says.

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